How to Use Stinging Nettle For Textile Dye

How to Use Stinging Nettle For Textile Dye

How to Use Stinging Nettle For Textile Dye

Stinging nettle is a common plant that can be used to create natural dyes for textiles. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to use stinging nettle for dyeing fabrics and yarns.

Gathering and Preparing Stinging Nettle

The first step is to gather stinging nettle leaves and stems. It’s best to collect them in the spring and summer when the plants are actively growing. Wear gloves when harvesting as the tiny hairs on the leaves and stems can cause skin irritation.

Once you’ve collected a large amount of fresh stinging nettle (a few shopping bags full), you’ll need to dry the plant matter before using it for dye. This can be done by hanging small bundles or laying the plants out in a single layer and allowing them to air dry out of direct sunlight.

When thoroughly dry, the leaves and stems need to be chopped into small pieces. You can use scissors, or for larger amounts, run the dried nettles through a wood chipper or blender to create a fine powder.

Key Steps for Preparing Stinging Nettle:

  • Wear gloves when collecting fresh nettle
  • Dry thoroughly by hanging bundles or laying flat
  • Chop into small pieces when dry

Creating the Dye Bath

To extract the pigments from stinging nettle, you’ll need to create a dye bath. This process helps draw out and infuse the color into water.

Fill a large stock pot with water, enough to fully submerge the fabric or yarn you want to dye. Add approximately 1 cup of dried stinging nettle pieces for every 1 gallon of water.

Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Allow it to simmer for 45-60 minutes to fully extract the chlorophyll from the nettle leaves. The longer the plant matter simmers, the darker and more vibrant the green dye color will be.

Strain out the plant material using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Compost the used nettle pieces. You can pour the liquid through a filter a second time if needed to remove all sediment.

The strained nettle dye bath liquid is now ready to use for dyeing.

Key Tips for Making the Dye Bath:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio of dried nettle to water
  • Simmer for 45-60 minutes
  • Strain out plant matter
  • Liquid is ready for dyeing

Dyeing Fabric and Yarn

With your prepared stinging nettle dye bath, you can now dye lightweight fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk along with protein fibers like wool and other animal fibers.

Wet the material you want to dye and place it into the pot of dye liquid. Bring it back up to a simmer for 45-60 minutes to allow the fabric to fully absorb the color. Agitate the material frequently while simmering to ensure even dyeing.

Once done simmering, remove the fabric and rinse it with plain water until the water runs clear. This helps set the dye. Air dry the newly dyed material out of direct sunlight.

The color will appear green at first but will oxidize over the next 24 hours into a golden yellow shade. Exposure to sunlight helps speed up the oxidation process.

Tips for Dyeing with Nettle:

  • Wet fabric/yarn before dyeing
  • Simmer 45-60 minutes with frequent agitation
  • Rinse until water runs clear
  • Allow to fully oxidize for rich yellow hue

Modifying the Color Result

There are a few options for modifying the end color result when dyeing with stinging nettle:

  • For a deeper golden yellow, add 1-2 teaspoons of iron mordant like iron sulfate to the dye bath. The iron helps intensify and shift the color.

  • To make the color greener, add 1-2 teaspoons of copper mordant like copper sulfate to the dye bath. Copper enhances and preserves the green pigments.

  • For a bright lemon yellow, increase the pH of the dye bath by adding 1 tablespoon of ** chalk or washing soda**. Higher pH makes the yellows brighter.

  • For a muted olive green, keep the pH low by adding a 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar to the dye bath before dyeing. Lower pH deepens greens and dulls yellows.

Options for Adjusting Nettle Dye Colors:

  • Iron mordant = deeper golden yellow
  • Copper mordant = greener
  • Higher pH = brighter yellow
  • Lower pH = olive green

With a simple stinging nettle dye bath, you can achieve beautiful natural yellows and greens on textiles. Adjusting the dye process and using metal mordants allows you to customize the final shades.